Firefighters at Ground Zero, on Historypin, photo from the Library of Congress.
On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, there is a lot of thinking back and reliving and remembering the events of that day. The shock, the disbelief, the horror. For me, being in Durham, North Carolina, it was frantically tracking down my friends in New York, picking up my then 1 year old from daycare and going home to be within arms reach of my loved ones. That feeling, so vivid then, of what was most important when everything around us was changing and uncertain.
I often think of history as something far removed from me, some distant past romantically retold and captured on glass plate negatives. Something so distant that it may be some place to travel to and observe, to learn from. But this day reminds me that it’s every passing moment, and that any unexpected second, everything can change. I was struck by that after reading the “collective diary” in the New York Times assembled from some of the many stories recorded by the Columbia Center for Oral History just after 9/11. It’s also powerfully illustrated by the stories shared in the collaboration between Broadcastr.com and the September 11 Memorial.
For me, as I suspect for many, the immediacy of what happened on 9/11 faded over time, and it wasn’t until a recent visit to New York that I realized how I had not really faced my memories of that day. Though I visit New York several times a year and have many close friends and family there, the financial district is almost never my destination, save a trip on the Staten Island Ferry. But this past June, I ended up booking a room in the Marriott at Ground Zero, just across the street from where the photo above was taken. I was overwhelmed with the anxiety of revisiting the scene of all of these images burned in my mind. In the end, it was comforting to be there and to remember.
Mary Marshall Clark, director of Columbia’s Oral History Research Office, wrote of their 9/11 project in the Journal of American History a year later, “It also tells us that in some ways for many of those we interviewed September 11, 2001, is not yet history, for it is the antithesis of history, of continuity, and of time as we understand it.”